As the last round of “intersessional” climate talks before Copenhagen opened on Monday in Barcelona, all eyes were looking in the same direction they were when we left Bangkok three weeks earlier: at the United States. Without American numbers on mitigation (or emissions reductions) and finance (for developing nations to build their own clean energy economies, and also to adapt to the impacts of climate change), any real forward progress in the talks is just about impossible.
“We need a clear target from the United States in Copenhagen,” urged Yvo de Boer, who’s charged with steering this UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) process to some kind of December resolution.” “That is an essential component of the puzzle.” The problem is that the U.S. isn’t putting anything out there. At least not yet. Not while the Kerry-Boxer bill limps through Senate subcommittees back on Capitol Hill.
And that’s really where De Boer’s comment – and most criticism of the American position – is directed. Not at the negotiating team here, but towards Washington. In the U.S. delegation’s defense, their hands have been tied pretty tight. The State Department hasn’t wanted to write a check that our domestic politics can’t cash. If Kyoto taught us anything, it’s that nobody can trust the U.S. until they see what’s actually written into law. (Quick history lesson–the U.S. signed the Kyoto Protocol back in 1998; eleven years later, it still hasn’t been ratified. At least 185 countries have ratified the Protocol, from Russia to Rwanda to Australia to Iraq. Iraq!) So there’s a massive trust gap. To be a credible player going into Copenhagen, the U.S. has to show something concrete coming from the home front. Lead negotiator Jonathan Pershing has not been at all coy about the fact that he needs to bring home a treaty that will be signed and ratified. (And, yes, if all this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The story was more or less the same last month in Bangkok.)